Zen and the art of doodling

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It was just another day in 2004. While creating patterns on a manuscript, veteran lettering artist Maria Thomas experienced feelings of complete relaxation, focus, well-being, timelessness and liberation. Rick Roberts, her husband, a seeker of the true meaning of life, was by her side then. He immediately identified the meditating mind. Later, when they discussed it, they felt inspired to look deeper. Together, they came up with a disciplined technique of doodling that can help anyone attain a meditative state of ‘creative mindfulness’. They refined the technique further and called it “Zentangle”.

Swati Sanyal Tarafdar

They have patented the technique, and today, they teach it to thousands of students across the globe, offering successful ones the title of Certified Zentangle Teachers (CZT).

“Zentangle is nothing new to us,” says Nidhi Aggarwal, who learned it from one of the few CZTs in India. “Indians have been doing rangolis for ages, and the repetitive patterns and designs may well form the background of Zentangle.” The technique behind Zentangle makes this kind of pattern-making more formal, more systematic, and with a spiritual tone to it. The philosophy is simple: drawing repetitive patterns on a small piece of paper keeps you focused on the drawing itself and distracted from problems. In the process, it relaxes and rejuvenates your mind. The outcome is a calm mind, as well as a unique piece of art that fills you with a feeling of success and worthiness.

Anyone can Zentangle. You need not be an artist. In fact, says Aggarwal, “Being a trained artist made it difficult for me to learn the patterns because they are so off-form, free flowing, and intuitive.”

Roberts and Thomas write: “Anything can happen with a stroke. A stroke, the small deliberate dash of your pen or pencil, is what produces a Zentangle; in the same way as small strokes of tasks and decisions make up your life.”

Psychologically, tangling helps busting stress, managing anger, creating a stronger mind that helps to own up to mistakes. It enforces mindfulness through ‘creative aimlessness’. It may be new, but as Psychology Today says, “The basic principles are as old as the history of art”.

While Zentangling, you don’t plan out the drawing beforehand; rather, you let your mind take over and allow lines and shapes to emerge unintentionally. You can always start with a small piece of square or circular white paper and a black pen, but serious Zentanglers use smudge-free, Micron, Sharpie, or Staedtler pens with sharp nibs of various sizes and special thick, white square papers or tiles, measuring 31.5 inches. The special material is supposed to make you more respectful towards your creation. A round Zentangle tile is called a Zendala and is a cross between mandalas and Zentangles.

When Roberts and Thomas launched Zentangle, they had created 102 patterns or tangles already. A few of their students, along with Molly Hollibaugh, Maria’s daughter, created a few more and took that number up to 152. Some of these patterns have been released in the open and you can learn them online. For the rest, you need to learn formally from the CZTs. When you create your own Zentangle, you need to include a few established patterns from this list of 152 to be able to call your art piece a Zentangle.

The best part is that there are no mistakes or wrong strokes. You don’t use erasers. Each stroke or line is an opportunity to build upon. It represents life — each decision, each task is mindfully conducted, and there are no mistakes. Whatever emerges from it gives you new opportunities to build on. If you are a beginner, putting pen to paper may take a little time. Start by lightly drawing a border. Then create a ‘string’, which is a freeform shape. It helps divide the paper into sections and sets your imagination rolling. Then, you can start drawing intricate patterns or tangles. “It might be numbing at first as you scribble unplanned and nothing much comes out. Gradually, however, you’ll be able to pen in repetitive patterns to create beautiful diagrams,” says Aggarwal.

There is no rule about how to start drawing a Zentangle. You can start from anywhere and end anywhere. It’s intuitive, and once you begin, you’ll feel the calm descending.

The writer is a journalist and an enthusiast in all things positive. Email:

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2022 6:47:25 PM |

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